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Jaundice: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Jaundice is a condition in which a person's skin and the whites of their eyes develop a yellow tint due an increased levels of bile pigments in the blood as a result of liver dysfunction.

When red blood cells breakdown naturally in a 120 days cycle, bilirubin is produced as a waste by-product.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of infants in the US end up having jaundice.

Although jaundice can affect anyone, and can be caused by other underlying conditions, it is mainly associated with problems related to the liver or the bile duct.

In this article, we will break down the causes and symptoms of jaundice alongwoth its diagnosis and treatment.

Jaundice: Types

According to the UK National Health Services, there are basically three types of jaundice, and we will try to understand the types in detail below:

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  • Pre-hepatic jaundice

This happens when there is an increased production and buildup of bilirubin in the blood.

The most common causes for this is hemolytic anemia, blood transfusions, hemolytic drugs, etc.

  • Intra-hepatic jaundice

Inter-hepatic or hepatocellular jaundice is caused due to a dysfunction of the hepatic cells.

Some underlying issues like Gilbert's, criggler najar syndrome or Dubin Johnson Syndrome, can also cause this type of jaundice.

  • Post-hepatic or obstructive jaundice

This happens because there is something stopping the flow of bile into the intestine, usually these are extrahepatic causes leading to combined symptoms of calculous cholecystitis, carcinoma of the head of the pancreas, pancreatic edema, acalculous cholecystitis, etc.

Jaundice: Symptoms 

According to Healthline, common signs and symptoms of jaundice include yellow tint on the skin, nails, mucus membrane and whites of the eyes. Other symptoms include:

  • light coloured stool

  • dark-colored urine

  • Itchy skin

  • Fatigue

  • Abdominal discomfort

  • Vomiting

  • Weight loss

  • Nausea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headache

Jaundice: Causes

Old red blood cells are broken down in the liver, to make bilirubin—the end product of the the process. Jaundice can happen when the liver is not able to metabolize the bilirubin the way it is supposed to.

This may happen due to the damage or abnormal functioning of the liver wherein the bilirubin cannot make it to the digestive tract from where it would be eliminated from the body via stool. The various contributing factors of the condition may include (Healthline):

  • Thalassemia

  • Liver cancer

  • Increased alcohol intake

  • Cirrhosis

  • Gallstones

  • Hepatitis, A, B, C, D or E

  • Pancreatic cancer

  • Acute pancreatitis

  • Sickle cell anaemia

  • Yellow fever

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Jaundice: Diagnosis 

Doctors may use the history of the patient and physical exam to diagnose jaundice and confirm the levels of bilirubin in the body.

They may check the abdomen for tumours and firmness of the liver.

A liver that's too firm indicates cirrhosis or the scarring of the liver.

According to the doctors of Mayo Clinic, several tests can help diagnose jaundice.

  • Liver function tests help to know whether or not the liver is functioning properly and producing the proteins it normally should

  • A blood test to check bilirubin levels and composition of the blood

  • AComplete Blood Count Test to check if there are chances of hemolytic anaemia

  • Liver biopsy

  • Abdominal CT scans and imaging to check the abnormalities of internal organs

Jaundice: Treatment 

According to Healthline, treatment will depend on the underlying causes the treatment targets the cause rather than the symptoms.

  • Anaemia induced jaundice may be treated by boosting the iron levels in the blood. Iron levels can be increased by either iron supplements or consuming iron-rich foods.

  • Hepatitis induced jaundice may require antiviral or steroid medications.

  • obstructive jaundice can be treated by surgically removing the obstruction.

  • If the cause of jaundice is use of a medication, your doctor may change your medicines. In alcohol-induced conditions, doctors may ask you to quit alcohol, take nutrition supplements and severe cases may involve liver transplant.

(This article is for your general information only. Before trying out any remedy or treatment, FIT advises you to consult a qualified medical professional.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Liver 

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